In the seventeen-century Holland became the bourgeois republic established in the result of the revolution. At that time it experienced a great upsurge of cultural activity, which manifested itself in great successes in painting.

Rembrandt van Rijan (1606-1669) is the greatest Dutch master and the Hermitage possesses twenty-six canvases by him, several drawings, and a large collection of his etchings.

He was born in Leiden in a family of a miller, where he began to study and later worked as an independent painter. In 1631/31 he moved from Leiden to Amsterdam. The beginning of the 1630s was a period of great success for Rembrandt; he became the best-known painter in Amsterdam. This period is illustrated in the Hermitage by some outstanding works: Flora, Descent from the Cross, Abraham’s Sacrifice, Danae and a number of portraits.

The highlight of the collection, Danae (1636), is based on a popular at that time mythological subject. According to the myth Danae was a daughter of a king who was predicted to be killed by his grandson. He imprisoned his beautiful daughter into a tower. Zeus, in the form of golden rain, visited his beloved. Later she gave birth to Perseus, who accidentally slew his grandfather by the throw of a discus. In 1980s the masterpiece was badly damaged by a mentally sick person who spread sulfuric acid on it and slew the canvas. The complicated restoration lasted for nearly fifteen years and after successful finishing, it came back to the halls of the Hermitage.

In Flora (1634) Rembrandt portrayed his wife Saskia as the goddess of spring and flowers. She is dressed in a heavy garment, and the head of the young woman is crowned with a wreath of flowers.

In the painting Descent from the Cross (1634) Rembrandt used the contrasts of lights and shade to intensify the emotional quality of the scene. The characters on the painting are simple Dutch people; the Virgin is shown as an elderly peasant woman falling into the arms of her friends.

In Abraham’s Sacrifice (1635) Rembrandt treated the Old Testament story. In order to try Abraham’s devotion God ordered to offer up his son Isaac. At the very moment when Abraham raised his hand to deliver the blow, an angel appeared and stopped him.

In 1642 his wife Saskia died, the same year he completed his famous Night Watch (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) and it was rejected by the burghers, thus came the break with the official Amsterdam society. By the end of 1640s three of his four children had died, and by 1658 he was bankrupt. These personal tragedies are reflected in his later works.

The Holy Family painted in 1645 belongs to his mature period and depicts the family of a carpenter. The scene takes place in a regular Dutch house of the seventeenth century, the Virgin looks as a young peasant woman at the cradle of her baby and her husband is working at his bench. The composition is full of kindness and peace. The Virgin’s face bears resemblance with Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt’s second civil wife.

The last twenty years of Rembrandt’s life are represented by a number of portraits and two paintings, David and Uriah (1665) and the Return of the Prodigal Son (1668/69). In the latter Rembrandt used the New Testament story. It tells that the father split the fortune between two sons, the elder one stayed at home accumulating the fortune, but the young one left his father and home and after wasting all money, returned home broken physically and emotionally. The young man falls on his knees in front of his father and the old man welcomes him back, the face and hands of the father expressing undying love and forgiveness.

In the Hermitage there are thirteen portraits by Rembrandt illustrating different periods of his work; among these is the early Portrait of a Scholar (1631), Portrait of Baartjen Martens Doomer (c.1640); and the late portrait of the poet Jeremias de Decker (1666). The finest paintings created by the master in this genre are the psychological portraits of the 1650s when the artist’s attention was struck by the faces of old people: Portrait of an Old Man in Red (c.1652-54), Portrait of an Old Woman (1654) and Portrait of an Old Man (1654). In these paintings Rembrandt shows man’s inner world. The face and hands are touched with light; the details of dress and surroundings melt away in a semidarkness.


Author: Ekaterina Chistyakova

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